Thursday, November 26, 2009
24 Hours (1931)
Above: Kay Francis and Clive Brook
Clive Brook ... Jim Towner
Kay Francis ... Fanny Towner
Miriam Hopkins ... Rosie Duggan
Regis Toomey ... Tony Bruzzi
George Barbier ... Hector Champion
Adrienne Ames ... Ruby Wintryingham
Minor Watson ... David Melbourne
Charlotte Granville ... Sairna Jerrold
Lucille La Verne ... Mrs. Dacklehorse
Wade Boteler ... Pat Healy
Bob Kortman ... Dave the Slapper
Malcolm Waite ... Murphy
Thomas E. Jackson ... Police Commissioner
Directed by: Marion Gering.
Based on the novel by Louis Broomfield.
Screenplay by Louis Weltzenjorn.
Cinematography by Ernest Haller.
Gowns by Travis Banton.
Released October 2, 1931.
A Paramount Picture.
During the Pre-Code Hollywood years, two distinct types of movies were made. The first was the eyebrow-raiser, these were films packed with nothing but sex, drugs, and violence and made solely for profit. The second was the adult melodrama, of which 24 Hours falls under. These types of movies addressed serious issues of the times and the way society was coping with them.
Louis Bromfield’s 1930 novel, Twenty-Four Hours, struck a chord with readers across the country with its melodramatic plot involving the lives of some very shady and unpleasant characters. Paramount acquired the rights to the novel in April 1931 and used three of its most popular stars, Clive Brook, Kay Francis, and Miriam Hopkins, in the leading roles.
Clive Brook, a veteran matinee idol since the early 1920s, fitted perfectly into the English debonair character types most associated today with having been started by Cary Grant. Brook, however, had established himself as an English actor of the first rate when talking films arrived, and audiences were allowed to listen to him skillfully deliver the early clunky dialogue.
With this he became more than just a face. Paired opposite actresses like Ruth Chatterton in Charming Sinners (1929) and Anybody’s Woman (1930), he was allowed to show himself as an actor, and 24 Hours progressed his strong reviews from critics who praised his “well-toned performances” (Time, October 12, 1931).
He had been paired opposite Kay Francis in Scandal Sheet (1931), which featured Paul Lukas in the lead. So far she had been in Hollywood for about two or three years, and had progressed from her vamp roles into real leads. Some of these leads were slightly stale, and her character in 24 Hours is a prime example of that, but it was good exposure and experience for a starlet who would transform herself into one of the most profitable stars of the 1930s.
Rounding out the top three was a strong-willed newcomer named Miriam Hopkins, who had only appeared in three movies before her work in 24 Hours. Among those was The Smiling Lieutenant (1931), in which she held her own in Ernst Lubitsch’s comedy which also starred Claudette Colbert and Maurice Chevalier. After this one she went on to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931), and a career that lasted well into the 1960s.
Director Marion Gering’s brief career included I Take this Woman (1931, with Gary Cooper and Carole Lombard), Madame Butterfly (1934, Sylvia Sidney and Cary Grant), and Good Dame (1934, Sidney and Fredric March). 24 Hours was his second work as a film director, and his list of credits only totals to seventeen, only two of which were made after 1937.
The New York Times, Time, and Variety all strongly praised the performances and direction of 24 Hours. One of 700 Paramount productions now owned by Universal, the film has unjustly fallen into the dark side of Hollywood, available only on third or fourth generation DVD/VHS copies.
There is a chilling snowstorm in the city this night.
Married couple Jim and Fanny Towner are attending a high-society party which seems to be plagued by a solemn atmosphere. Both know that their marriage is on the rocks, largely because of Jim’s uncontrollable drinking, and insulting attitude towards Fanny, who has been carrying on an affair with David Melbourne.
Actions such as Jim’s leaving the party without Fanny conclude in her mind that Jim doesn’t love her anymore.
Once outside, Jim has a brief conversation with the doorman, who, unknowing that Jim has been carrying on an affair with his sister, says that if his wife’s baby is a girl she will be named Rosie after her.
In a car ride with David, Fanny writes their names with her finger through the fog built up on the windows. She tells David how she thought that she loved him, but, even after all that has happened, she still loves Jim, and always will. She scribbles his name on the window, and gets out and spends the stormy night alone.
A man is shot and killed outside of a speak easy. His lifeless body is dragged inside, where the bloody snow on the ground remains when Jim enters. He has several drinks, becomes aware that there has been a murder, and takes off to Rosie’s where his mistress is the nightclub’s main attraction. She sings “I’m Yours for the Taking,” then has a few drinks with Jim before her husband Tony shows up.
Tony is a loser. He can’t tell the truth, has become victim to the Depression’s wrath, and wants Rosie back in his life because he really has nothing left to cling on to. Rosie asks him for the keys to her apartment back, but he claims he doesn’t have them, and when he gets rough with her, she has a guard throw him out.
Rosie takes Jim back to her place that night. He is in no condition to make it home alone. She puts him to sleep in one room, and locks the door and hides the key, knowing that Tony will be coming around.
When Tony does arrive, he tries to open the door to the bedroom where Jim is, but Rosie insists he is not there. Tony doesn’t listen, and gets pretty physical with her for that key, killing her in the struggle.
Jim gets up that morning and has to break the door in to get out of the room. He finds Rosie dead, and sneaks out of the apartment before he believes anyone sees him. Unfortunately, the doorman from last night (Rosie’s brothers) recognizes Jim while he quickly takes off, and Jim is arrested for murder.
Fanny reads of it in the paper, and rushes to the jail where Jim is being held. There they begin to discuss the situation from last night, and the events leading up to it.
Meanwhile, Tony is gunned down by shady characters, probably people he owed money to. Fingerprints reveal that it was he who killed Rosie, not Jim, and Jim is released, after which he and Fanny agree to reconcile.
This is a great movie for Clive Brook and Miriam Hopkins. They have great range with their characters, and steal the majority of the picture, though Regis Toomey does get a lot of attention as Tony. While Toomey does without any sympathy from the audience, his struggle with Hopkins is very realistic, and he comes across as a pathetic wimp throughout all of his scenes with or without her.
Brook, as alcoholic Jim, is nearly as icy cold as the snowstorm outside. No sympathy in him, and he doesn’t try to gain audience favor, either. He plays Jim exactly for what he is, the type of millionaire man who has become so bitter from his money that his sympathetic wife means absolutely nothing to him. His situation, which has stretched him to the point of having an affair with a gaudy nightclub star, is given no Hollywood glamour here.
This isn’t meant to be a scandalous shocker with a lot of overt sexual innuendos and drunkenness. It’s a true tale about the lives of very unhappy people, all affected by the toughness of the times.
There’s no fabrication for any of them.
Kay Francis and Miriam Hopkins, though they have no scenes together, play off each other with contradicting characters sharing the same type of heart. Both honestly love Jim, but, as Hopkins tells him, “There’s one that always gets there first.” Their lives are in two complete directions. Fanny is a society girl living in a beautiful art deco apartment and comfortably adjusted to her husband’s wealth, while Rosie is working class. She hasn’t had it easy, as her brother makes clear, and she’s been used and lied to by almost everyone she has ever trusted.
Fanny knows none of that. The only pain she knows is how Jim can make her feel.
Kay is given a lot of redundant lines about loving Jim anyway, while the image of a dead Miriam Hopkins hanging over the side of the bed is the first image that pops into my mind when I think of this movie. Their camera time is about the same, but, please, this is a showcase for Miriam, who has the best character of the entire film.
Directed brilliantly by Marion Gering, 24 Hours has been unfairly relegated to bootlegged DVD copies from third or fourth generation transfers. For 1930s movie fans, it’s a great example of how well even the simplest of stories could be produced if done with the right budget, people, and direction.
Anyone interested in old movies is sure to find it admirable, especially when viewing on a snowy winter night.